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December 19th, 2008
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Poker Lesson: Interpreting Three-Bets
Author: Jordan Morgan
We all know that a three-bet is supposed to mean strength. When a player three-bets before the flop, he’s saying that he believes he has the best hand. One of the keys to making money at the poker table, however, is being able to interpret when the three-bet means what it’s supposed to mean, and when a player is only representing a big hand and making a move.
The fact of the matter is that you’re not getting the right odds in most situations to call a three-bet with a small pocket pair. When there’s been a raise and a re-raise in front of you and you look down at a hand like pocket 6s, you normally want to fold it and move on. You can sometimes get away with making the call with a very deep stack, but you really have to have a strong read that you’re going to get paid if you make your hand. I might call with pocket 9s or 10s in the right spot against the right opponent, but hands like 8s or 7s just don’t play well enough, especially out of position.
One exception, of course, is if a particular player three-bets repeatedly. This suggests he isn’t always doing it with strong hands and it might be worth playing back at him. However, when I say “repeatedly,” I don’t just mean a couple of times early in a session. If a guy three-bets you twice early on, you might be inclined to think that he’s picking on you and doesn’t have a hand. But it could also be that the guy got dealt big hands twice. Until he has three-bet you relentlessly or shown down a weak holding after three-betting, you don’t want to try to make a play at him. Once he has done it several times, then it’s worth making a play at the pot if he puts in another three-bet, because he’s not going to have the premium hand that he’s representing that often.
Another thing to watch out for is the tiny three-bet. Say it’s a $1/$2 game, I raise to $6, and another player raises to $10 or $12 instead of something more standard like $15 or $18. When people make a tiny three-bet, I’ll usually call that. I don’t give a lot of respect to those plays. Sometimes they will be huge hands, but more often they’ll be very weak hands that you can take the pot from out of position.
A very small three-bet is not a tactic that I’ll use very often – there isn’t much reason for it. If you’re trying to steal a pot, you want to make it more difficult for your opponent to call. If you actually have a big hand, you want to get value for it when your opponent calls, so a bigger three-bet is a better idea.
Facing a three-bet can be a daunting prospect at times – be certain you have a good read on your opponent before making your next move.
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